Food and arthritis

Nearly 23 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with arthritis. The disease has no known cure, but there are plenty of opinions about what may help ease symptoms.

Does milk cause more pain? Are tomatoes off the safe list? Can sprinkling salt in your shoes draw moisture from your bones?

Pity the poor tomato. Long thought poisonous, it’s often maligned for making arthritis worse. This is because tomatoes naturally produce a toxin called solanine. This toxin is believed to contribute to inflammation, swelling, and joint pain.

However, no relationship between arthritis pain and tomatoes — or any of its cousins like potato and eggplant —has been found.

So how did this myth get started? The leaves of tomato plants are poisonous to protect the fruit from animals and fungi.

As for the potato, avoid any with green spots. These green spots contain toxins that might make you sick.

If you enjoy eating grapefruit, ask your doctor about medications you shouldn’t take.

This healthy breakfast staple can interact with certain drugs, such as those taken to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, infections, and heart problems. But no evidence links citrus fruits with arthritis pain.

In fact, the vitamin C found in citrus may actually help your arthritis. It may cause your body to make collagen, a necessary component of healthy bones.

Some proponents claim that drinking apple cider vinegar can reduce arthritis pain and disease progression because the vinegar destroys free radicals that cause inflammation. This simply isn’t the case.

Don’t avoid vinegar altogether — just save it for salads.

Raisins soaked in gin may make your arthritis symptoms go away — but only until the effects of the alcohol wear off. There’s also a belief that the sulfur in raisins relieves joint pain.

However, there’s no evidence that raisins soaked in gin or any other alcohol-food combination will make your arthritis better.

On the other hand, too much alcohol can impair your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to illness and making your arthritis worse. If your arthritis is complicated by gout, drinking red wine can worsen the pain.

Some people believe avoiding dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese will reduce arthritis symptoms. This idea comes from the belief that many people are lactose intolerant, meaning their bodies don’t properly absorb dairy.

Dairy allergies are also on the rise, which has fueled this speculation.

Any condition that interferes with absorption prevents your body from getting necessary nutrients, which can impair your immune system. But according to the National Institutes of Health, most people can consume small amounts of dairy products without symptoms.

The bottom line? Dairy can be part of a healthy diet if you have arthritis, as long as you don’t have a dairy allergy.

Gelatin gives you gelatinous joints? This food myth probably comes from the outdated (and incorrect) thinking that the physical qualities in a food will translate in helpful ways to the body.

Wiggly gelatin won’t make stiff joints more wobbly. Gelatin makes no difference in arthritis pain. If you don’t care for it, avoid it. If it’s a favorite, indulge in moderation.

Many people say their arthritis feels worse when weather is rainy or humid. That’s where the old wives’ tale that sprinkling salt in your shoes will eliminate arthritis pain originates.

The thinking is that salt, which naturally draws moisture to itself, will draw moisture from the body and relieve swelling in joints. Too bad it’s not that simple. There’s no medical reason to sport high-sodium heels.

There’s no shortage of information on fasting and its supposed health benefits. According to some research, fasting may improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. But the positive effects are short-term and symptoms will return once you go back to a normal diet.

There’s no proof that fasting helps cure arthritis.

Maintaining a healthy weight can relieve pressure from arthritic joints. However, there are healthier ways than fasting to achieve this.

For example, exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes at least 3 days a week, choose healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, and reduce your daily caloric intake.

Here’s one arthritis food remedy with substantial evidence to support its effectiveness. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in oily fish like salmon, tree nuts, flax, chia, and other foods — may help reduce arthritis inflammation and pain.

For supplements, consume up to 2.6 grams twice a day for a potential therapeutic effect. But watch for bruising or gum bleeding and lower the dose if these occur.

Omega-3s have also been shown to improve mood if you have depression.

The most consistent evidence connecting arthritis relief and diet is simple:

  • Eat a balanced diet with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods.
  • Make sure the calories you consume provide as much nutrition as possible — that means no junk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

If you start to notice an association with certain food groups and increased joint pain or swelling, try to lower or eliminate that food for a while, and then try adding small amounts back in to see if the association is still occurring.

Diets high in fiber and rich in raw fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean proteins are your best bet for feeling good.